Why do Police Riot Squads Target Protesters Instead of White Supremacists?

Police riot squads were an inescapable presence at the recent demonstration against white supremacists at a “free speech” rally in Boston, just as they had been a week earlier in Charlottesville. Soon after the event was cut short and a handful of white supremacists were safely escorted by police to waiting vans, buses approached Boston Common from multiple locations and disgorged a stream of armor-clad, helmeted, baton wielding police officers, dispatched to quell the nonviolent assembly.

This display of police aggression escalated tensions, provoked physical confrontations and netted over 30 arrests. In the aftermath of the rally, protesters were left to wonder: Why had the Boston Police Department protected white supremacists but policed anti-racist demonstrators?

The answer does not necessarily lie in the personal politics of police officers themselves, but rather in the deep historical forces that continue to structure the mission and posture of contemporary police riot squads. That history reveals not only the baked-in hostility of big-city police departments to demonstrations for racial equality, but the ways in which these squads threaten to ignite — rather than prevent — urban violence.

Perhaps surprisingly, today’s riot squads do not date to the major uprisings of the late 1960s, when civil rights and antiwar demonstrations were conflated with criminality and violence. Rather, these paramilitary-style units were created to police the growing black population in cities in the early 1960s at the behest of white residents. As the size and functions of riot squads multiplied across the decades, these elite, specialized police squads could not — and still cannot — be untangled from their original purpose: to impose urban order through the harassment and containment of black people.

Boston’s Tactical Patrol Force (TPF) — the forerunner to the Special Operations unit deployed at Saturday’s demonstration — was first formed in 1962, one of the many tactical squads that proliferated in big-city police departments in the early 1960s. These units were emblematic of the police response to the expanding proportion of urban black residents in the decades after World War II.

In Boston, frightened whites turned to the police for protection from impoverished black residents who were confined to a handful of neighborhoods, including Roxbury, Dorchester and Mattapan. In 1966, for example, the Boston Globe reported that “citizens’ complaints about police protection have been on increase, especially in South Boston,” the staunchly white neighborhood that, a few years later, would serve as home base for the ferocious opposition to school desegregation. Police Commissioner Edmund McNamara assured these residents that the TPF would continue to pursue the goals for which it was first established: to “saturate” neighborhoods “plagued by misconduct,” including, not coincidentally, Roxbury, Dorchester and Mattapan.

The prevailing urban white suspicion and fear of black residents set the agenda for tactical squads like the TPF. While the TPF was styled as a highly specialized cadre of men trained in urban combat, “street crime” — theft, burglary and small-scale morals offenses — was the bread-and-butter work of this elite squad. As black criminologists and neighborhood leaders argued, and as the history of policing in Boston bears out, “street crime” was simply a euphemism for “black crime.”

TPF officers routinely focused on petty black offenses. They conducted intensive field interrogations and searches, and frequently deployed decoy details to entrap black women suspected of engaging in prostitution. One white TPF officer recalled in his memoir that in the late 1960s, he and his partner often “made some good grabs” for handbag snatches, fights and prostitution. By 1974, the TPF’s everyday function was officially clarified as a “selective enforcement group concentrating on the reduction of street crimes,” primarily downtown and in black neighborhoods. “Selective enforcement” was yet another euphemism signaling the TPF’s racially charged priorities.

For the full article visit: https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/made-by-history/wp/2017/08/25/why-do-police-riot-squads-target-protesters-instead-of-white-supremacists/?utm_term=.d16b06d43c08

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Filming Cops
Filming Cops 4753 posts

Filming Cops was started in 2010 as a conglomerative blogging service documenting police abuse. The aim isn’t to demonize the natural concept of security provision as such, but to highlight specific cases of State-monopolized police brutality that are otherwise ignored by traditional media outlets.

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